HC Deb 13 July 1978 vol 953 cc728-9W
Mr. Grieve

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many complaints he has received of delays in work carried out by his Department's office at Washington, County Durham; and what proposals he has for dealing with such delays.

Mr. Orme

During the six months ended 30th June 1978, 490 letters of complaint through hon. Members or the media or directly from claimants to child benefit, addressed to departmental Ministers, have been considered. In 207 cases the child benefit centre at Washington was not considered to have been at fault. Of the 283 cases where the centre was considered wholly or partly at fault, it is estimated that the majority involved unnecessary delay. No record is available of the larger number of cases in which claimants have complained of delay in correspondence with the centre before the matter was settled generally to the satisfaction of the claimant.

As explained in my replies to the hon. Members for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), and Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) on 21st June and 26th June respectively—[Vol. 952, c. 219–220 and c.416]—the staff at the centre are coping with a very heavy work load. Regular overtime is being worked. In a small minority of cases, there may be delay giving cause for dissatisfaction in replacing an order book returned for adjustment following a change or circumstances. A new computer system being brought in during 1979 will, among other improvements, enable an additional order book to be issued, the existing book being left in issue, when a further child is included in an award. Some 600,000 such additional books will eventually be issued each year.

Generally, I am satisfied that the management at the centre is closely monitoring operations with a view to reducing delays to the minimum.